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Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012

John Prine

Reflections on a Folk Singer

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"I like his smile," my mother always says when we listen to John Prine. It's a smile that represents the man well.  John Prine is an American legend who continues to write, sing and perform songs since his 1971 debut. He is now in his fifth decade of mesmerizing audiences with his simple common man stories of life. His concerts are never a disappointment. I compare a John Prine concert to a high school reunion where people gather to talk about old classmates; his songs are like old friends to his fans.

He has amassed an amazing catalog of memorable songs. "Hello In There," "Sam Stone," "Paradise," "Spanish Pipedream," and "Dear Abby" just scratches the surface. Several of his own songs—"Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian," "Lake Marie," "Please Don't Bury Me"—and his cover of "Milwaukee Here I Come" include references to Wisconsin. He has written some of the best love songs of all time—something overlooked by many people. "Unlonely" and "This Love is Real" will be used at my upcoming wedding. I was thrilled when he won a Grammy in 2006 for Fair and Square, a brilliant CD and one of his personal favorites. I once told him that it's his Dark Side of the Moon. There was not a bad song on it.

I was asked to write something about John and my personal experiences. I began promoting concerts in 1983 at the age of 18. My first John Prine concert was in 1986. At the 1991 "Missing Years" show I promoted at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, he turned to me and said, " If you ever come to Nashville give me a call and I will show you around."  It was a much unexpected comment as I try to keep quiet around the acts I work with. John and I had maybe said a few sentences to each other over the previous six years, but we started talking about basketball in 1991 and hit it off. Later that year I invited him to a Bucks game at the Bradley Center (his step son Jody was a big fan of the Bulls and Michael Jordan). That started a great relationship of going to Bucks games, Cubs and White Sox's games in Chicago and even hockey in Nashville. I was invited to any of his Chicago area shows and have since promoted him in 14 different cities around Wisconsin and Illinois.

I have been blessed to promote and be around off stage one of the great songwriters of our generation. I am not sure any modern folk singer out now will reach their fifth decade of performing at 2,000 seat theatres. Besides John's amazing songwriting ability and longevity he really is one of the nicest and most loyal people in the music business. I have never come across any person that has meet or worked with John that does not like him. His smile is who he is and not only is he a nice man but he is the smartest guy in the room—but acts like everybody else and never uses his star status when you are around him. I cannot think of any other performer who drives himself and the band to each show—usually the star is being driven or has a big tour bus. When the band flies to a city, John rents a SUV and drives it to the gig! He is just an average guy to be around as he enjoys talking sports and having a beer and hot dog.

His loyalty is unmatched in the business. His best friend and manager Al Bunetta have been together since almost day 1. They are like brothers. Mitchell, David, Jason and Eric (his tour manger, band and stage technician) have been with him for decades with the newest member having tenure of 15 years.

Above everything else John is a dedicated family man. His beautiful wife Fiona and he have two boys Tommy and Jack. He has pictures of them that he puts on stage every night. When he brought the boys to Milwaukee for a basketball game he made sure they were bundled up for our Wisconsin winter weather. When I went to Nashville for a hockey game they got there a little late as his boys had to finish their homework—a real tribute to their priorities.

One of my favorite events in my life is when I first met John's wife Fiona. I was a guest for a show in Chicago. When we were introduced she gave me a hug and said, "I have heard so much about you." I was a little stunned and honored that my name was mentioned in the Prine household!

John Prine is revered among his peers and the biggest modern folk singers and performers of the modern age. In 2010 John and Al's label Oh Boy released Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows featuring Bon Iver, the Avett brothers, Josh Ritter and others doing John's songs. When asked to name their favorite songwriters Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Roger Waters all mention and love to talk about John Prine. Talk about a legacy!

I am looking forward to seeing John Prine back in Milwaukee for our show on March 9 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. If you are big fan or a casual listener I encourage you to go you will not be disappointed.  My Mom will be there too as she always bakes John his favorite cake when we do shows together. She enjoys doing it for the guy with the nice smile.
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